Simran Jeet Singh:
Thanks for joining our program, “Becoming Less Racist: Lighting the Path to Anti-Racism.” I’m your host, Simran Jeet Singh. I’m a scholar and activist and a columnist for Religion News Service. This is our second week of programming and I’m delighted to have you all here. On Tuesday, we were joined by Robert P. Jones, the founder and CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, and we talked about the legacy of white supremacy in American Christianity, and we’ll be continuing some of the themes we discussed on Tuesday with our guest, Dr. Kelly Baker, the author of The Gospel According to the Klan: The KKK’s appeal to Protestant America, 1915 to 1930. Before we turn to Kelly, I just wanted to give you a word on the program. Our vision is to offer two things that we believe the world needs badly right now. First, we want to offer you insight into what racism looks like, and that’s what each episode will focus on a particular aspect and take us through it.
And our goal is to help you all and myself understand how racism affects people at a personal level, and also on a societal level. The other thing we hope to do here is to receive guidance from our expert guests on how to move from just understanding racism and into actually taking action. And so this may come as wisdom on how to grapple with the racist ideas embedded within us. It may come as guidance on actions we can take to deal with the racism all around us. So the vision is that we put what we learn into action, because if we don’t, the ideas just stay in our heads and nothing changes. As Angela Davis once said so powerfully, in a racist society, it’s not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist. Her point was that there’s no middle ground. When it comes to racism, we may all be in the process of becoming less racist, but our ultimate goal, both spiritually and politically is to push back against it.
So again, thank you all for being here. Thank you all for being on this journey with me. And I want to begin by introducing our incredible guest today, Dr. Kelly Baker. She’s a scholar of religion and race who specializes in white supremacy. I couldn’t think of a better person to have with us, and she has this amazing book — I wish I had a copy of it with me, it’s in my office — but I wish I had a copy with me in hand to show you the beautiful cover. It’s called The Gospel According to the Klan: the KKK’s Appeal to Protestant America, and Dr. Baker is a prolific writer. She writes on a diversity of topics and she’s also a loving mom, who’s confronted white supremacy with courage and conviction. So I’m excited. You’ll get to hear from her, she has a special knack for helping us see what’s going on all around us and how it fits into the bigger historical picture. And so I’m excited for you all to learn from her today. So thank you, Kelly. Thanks for being here with us today. Let’s start by just knowing a little bit about how you’re doing.
Hey, thanks so much for having me on, I’m really honored to be able to be this. I’m going to give you the answer that I give everybody, which is like hanging in, in the world that is on fire, from pandemic to police brutality to these really remarkable protests that are happening at different places. I’m just kind of watching it play out and donating to as many bail funds as I possibly can as part of this. So yeah, so I’m here. Okay. Maybe best we can do.
Well, I appreciate that. And yeah, I’m with you. And I think a lot of us are with you that it’s a different feeling and things are all over the place, so it’s yeah — you take the good with the bad and the bad with the good, I guess. Let me ask you this, we’ll dive right in. And so much of our cultural conversation right now is around racism and white supremacy. I’d love to hear from you as a white woman, what’s the earliest experience with racism that you can remember either, either one that you saw with your own eyes or something you recognized within yourself?
That’s a really good question. And I was trying to think through this yesterday, about if there was a particular pivotal moment, right? Like if I had a really good story about the first time that I noticed this, but I grew up in the rural South, you know, in the eighties and nineties. And I think my first kind of indications of this was how white teachers in elementary school treated children with different color skin differently. Right? So that Black children in classes were sent out of the classrooms more often, right? That they were the ones that the teachers really put pressure on and assumed were behavior problems, right? Where I was just like little petite white girl who they didn’t notice. Right? In one way or target. And I think that is one of those kind of early moments. The other one that came to me that I thought was worthwhile and mentioned is that I had this teacher in fourth grade, who — Miss V. Williams, who’s amazing — who decided to have us write newspapers from the position of abolitionist and slaveholders and the fourth grade, right? That we’re gonna –and I was the editor of the abolition one, and it struck me that I couldn’t understand how more kids wanted to work on the pro-Confederacy newsletter magazine than did on the abolition side of this. Right? So this is, you know, mid-eighties, late eighties. And there were like five of us for abolition, you know, like me and several Black kids and then a whole bunch of people that were super excited, right, to do this pro-Confederate thing. And that stuck with me since, from years and years, decades now, of how, even in that moment where we were supposed to be moving to multicultural curriculum and doing these sorts of things, these were so embedded and the teachers weren’t necessarily pushing us to think about why, right Or how this would happen in some sort of way.
Right. And you were in fourth grade at the time. So how deep in terms of age appropriateness, right? Like how deep could you really dig into those things, and what can a fourth grade teacher do? And on the other hand… Remind us where you grew up?
So I grew up in Northwest Florida, which is where I live now too, which is an adventure. And so we’re talking rural County, you know — my city population now is somewhere near 15,000. Right? That it is a racially diverse city and that the schools are very racially diverse, more than they were when I grew up, but yeah, I mean, really kind of Bible Belt South. Right? And even in high school, the Klan was trying to march, right when I was in high school, in the nineties and nearby towns. And so this was very much on my radar, particularly because of how disappointed I was by the way white adults reacted to it. Right? They weren’t as strident about the Klan as they could have been, right. Or they weren’t on the front lines telling us, you know, this is not acceptable, this is wrong.
Right. So what should we be doing? And some sort of way to counter this. That wasn’t really where the conversations were. It was more of a, like, if we ignore them, they’ll go away sort of thing. Because those conversations are harder, right? About like, what kind of practice do you have to work against groups like this and what can teenagers do and, and these sorts of things. But yeah, it was just kind of remarkably clear to me that if something was happening here, and we lacked the kind of resources and tools — particularly white students lack the resources and tools to figure out how to do something, like be an ally, which is very much part of our language now.
Yeah. I’m really interested to hear you describe that because I’m thinking about my own childhood in Texas. And growing up, we went to high school in a town outside of San Antonio, and it was the agricultural hub for everyone in South Texas who wanted to do a career in agriculture. And so we had — let me say it this way. I didn’t realize it until recently how strange it was that a lot of the trucks parked outside of our high school had Confederate flag bumper stickers. Like it was just so normal to us. And I honestly never thought twice about it until this movement to pull down Confederate monuments. And then I talked to my brothers and I was like — do you remember that? Do you remember these bumper stickers or am I making that up? And so it’s really interesting to hear that you, the age, by the time you were in high school, you were already hyper-conscious of racism and white supremacists and the KKK and you were already moving. I mean, by that point, I mean, I wasn’t, I was racialized personally, but I wasn’t thinking about allyship or anything like that. So yeah. I wonder if you can think of what equipped you to care at that time. I mean, in high school, and even in your own formation, what’s brought you into this work?
So, you know, it’s one of the things about parents that parents can either push you to be your best self, right, and very organic, useful ways, or you can find yourself working against them. And so I think part of this has to do with the fact that my mom was always very much on board with — it is not acceptable to treat people who are different in any way, except to give them respect. Right? This is very much kind of formative to the way she did things. I think it also helped that I was dealing with racist relatives who had no problem saying really terrible things. Right? Then I kind of wanted to push back against where it’s like — I don’t understand how you can say this or how you can do this. Right? And so part of it was that pushing against them, I think that helped build some of that consciousness.
Right. And then there were a few incidents in high school where adults were very firmly trying to keep the racial line as clearly demarcated as possible, teachers that were commenting about interracial dating, right? And not allowing interracial couples to go to dances or participate in activities. And that stuck with me too, because it’s just kind of a ridiculous thing and it’s arbitrary. Right? But so much of it was like, let’s keep the racial order intact because this is working against it, so that was very much on my mind. Partially ’cause these are my friends too. Right? So I use that familiarity and that intimacy piece of that, where it’s like, –why is this happening to them? This is totally unfair. And I think that was that kind of early consciousness of what the anti-racist activism that I want to do now.
Right. I don’t think growing up in that kind of very explicitly white supremacist culture meant that I could be an antiracist that early on. Right? But it was more about kind of learning where the battle lines are and figuring out what kind of matters here to you. Right? Does it matter that we keep up this kind of — the fact there was segregation? Well, no, right. These are people and we need to understand that everyone should have these kinds of same options and opportunities. And I think that was the piece that really worked on me to kind of get me to where I am now.
That’s great. That’s great. Thank you. If you’re just joining us, we are in conversation with Dr. Kelly Baker. She has a fantastic book called The Gospel According to the Klan: The KKK’s Appeal to Protestant America. If you have questions for Kelly along the way, feel free to drop them in the comments, and we will try and get to them. Kelly, can you talk to us a little bit about the premise of your research? What is the relationship look like between Christianity and the KKK?
So I feel like I should just admit this, that I am very contradictory and I do not like to go with the flow of other people. So part of how I came to this work is that I was taking courses in graduate school on, explicitly on, religious hatred, right. And religious violence. And one of the things that kind of killed me about these classes is that — there were a whole bunch — but let’s say there were a handful of students who are also graduate students who were convinced, absolutely convinced, that Christianity is inherently progressive, right? And it helps people and it’s about peace and it’s about love and all these sorts of things. And so I, because maybe I’m a jerk, decided to work on this project that later became my book to show that Christianity is embedded in these white supremacists movements, right?
It’s not like suddenly a Klansman could become Christian and then they’re progressive and we’ve solved the problem, right? It’s not like — Oh, if we can just bring you to Jesus, it would be over. That’s not the case. Instead the way this works, particularly when I’m talking about the 1920s Klan and my work, is that Protestant Christianity helped uphold white supremacy and white supremacy helped uphold this white Protestant Christianity so that they very much worked in tandem. They were not separate, they were not understood as separate. So the Klansmen turned to biblical text to show that there’s like a racial hierarchy that we should follow, and then they took examples too from religious leaders, right. So that they claim that, you know, if Jesus had been alive in the 20th, he would have been a Klansman. Right? Which is a wild claim.
Like it’s just, I mean, I found this in the archive and I was like, no, this is not true. Right? Like it’s not possibly true. And then I was like — Oh no, they’re for real about this. You know, claiming things about Jesus’s identity that would suggest that he would support white supremacy and they do it in all these kind of intriguing ways. But it’s very much to say, Christianity is a part of white supremacy and Christianity and white supremacy work together to form an American identity and American nation. So, the other piece of this that I think is so important is that for the Klan in the twenties, and then these white supremacist movements later, that to be an American meant that you needed to be a white Protestant Christian, but also that you were going to uphold white supremacy and all the structures of white supremacy to that — hat was your job, and then everybody else didn’t count as American or weren’t a part of this nation in history.
Yeah. I find that so interesting because as an outsider, right, someone who’s not Christian, it feels to me like, and it sounds like you feel the same way that, Christianity and the KKK, like they’re opposing forces, white supremacy is antithetical to Christianity. So I have trouble in my own head making sense of how to end up in bed together. And so, could you walk us through an example of an argument that someone might make of this is, why Jesus would be a white supremacist, or this is why Christianity is in favor of white supremacy?
Yeah. So let’s get back to the genus example, right? ‘Cause this is just the wildest example ever. So the claim that the Klan made, and this is, I mean, this is the fascinating logic of how you get to a certain argument, right, is what I should say. The claim that they made is that Jesus was Jewish. So admittedly they understood that, and then they took it and like shifted it and said, because he was Jewish, he was supportive of his ethnicity and his clan, small C. And so, because he had — which basically this like ethnic pride is what they’re claiming — he would then understand, right, that other groups would have this ethnic pride. And he would really want to like keep the purity of his particular group. So the Klan, takes us and says — Oh, we can do this about whiteness too.
Right? Like that, we’re going to say that, you know, if Jesus were around the day, like he would totally be down with like white people — this is not Klan language, it’s my language — totally be down with white people saying we’re going to preserve whiteness. Right? And we’re going to preserve white dominance. And then the other thing that they did is that they took teachings from Jesus and kind of applied them to a Klan context. Right? So one of the things that they also do is that they emphasize over and over and over again, that Jesus was for self sacrifice. Right? And that you need to understand that part of being a Klansman, right. A member of the Klan is that you have to sacrifice yourself for not only the Klan, but also for your religious movement, your nation, these sorts of things. Right?
And so they take these ideas that at face value, most of us would be like — okay, like these make sense, and then combine them with white supremacy. And then they would do a lot of that textual cherry picking. Right? So examples of descriptions of race and the [inaudible] text that they then are able to say — Oh, like, we know that white people are the pinnacle of civilization or something like this. So that they selectively remember things about ethnicity in peoples in the Bible, but then kind of wipe it clean. And they do this with American history too. Right? So that when they talk about American history, they’re talking just about white American Protestants, you know, so we go like Pilgrims, Puritans forward, and then we kinda ignore that, like, the genocide of indigenous peoples and we kind of ignore slavery, you know, to sort of get to — these are the only people that America that matter, right, in a certain way.
Okay. So one more question to kind of push us along. So you’re talking about this relationship between white supremacy and Christianity and your work is specifically focused in the early 1900s, the formation of the Klan. Correct? And so what does this look like as we historicize it into today? I mean, there are a lot of conversations today. I mean, we hear the word white supremacist, we hear the word white nationalist. We don’t really hear about the KKK as much. Although we get a taste here and there, the Confederacy and the pro-Confederates. So can you tell us what this looks like in today’s context — what does the relationship between Christianity and white supremacy look like today?
So this is a really good question. And I think it’s a really complicated question. And I think part of the reason it’s complicated is that folks want racists to declare that they are racist, right? Like they want this kind of like, face value thing, right, as if, you know, white supremacists just walk around with like signs or something to identify themselves with. And so a lot of the stuff is stealthier today than it was with the Klan. The Klan had no problem, like, declaring that — We’re for white supremacy, we’re for Protestantism, a hundred percent Americanism, that sort of thing. So I think it’s harder to kind of maneuver through now, but we see this, right, with white Christian groups who are firmly on the side of the Trump administration’s policies towards, oh, I don’t know, trans people. Right? Or, particularly, LGBTQ people. We see this when they want to ignore the racism of Trump’s rhetoric and his speeches and how he handles himself regarding immigrants.
They want to — or they support it, right. It could be that they ignored to sort of distance, but support this as some sort of way. So you see that there are Christian leaders and Christians that attend churches that are very supportive of his policies, which are white supremacist policies. They just don’t want you to call them white supremacist policies or reflect it back on them. Right? You know, leading up to the 2016 election. And even after we’ve talked a lot about dog whistles, you know, like — so the stuff that looks like one thing, but it’s actually signaling something about race. And I think that kind of thing is much more common. Right? And it would be a lot easier to understand if folks were putting on hoods and robes, like Klansmen, where you can kind of like instantly identify this. It’s much harder to kind of parse out.
Though I do think people are parsing it and paying attention to this and seeing what white churches are actually talking about Black Lives Matter, right. Or are they doing all lives matter? You know, as a way to handle this, you know, who’s marching, who’s paying attention to this. You know, who is supporting the police no matter what, right, in this kind of thing. And the question of white supremacy in police brutality is also one that needs to be paid very careful attention to, by white people in particular. I’m pretty sure that people of color have already been there and understanding this, so that you can see these kinds of instances. But they’re just really hard to say like this, right? Like, this right here is what’s happening. And you know, when you say this stuff is white supremacist and surprisingly, get a lot of pushback from white people, right, who are like — no, that’s not what’s happening here. I’m like — yeah, it is.
Yeah. I mean, I think that’s a conversation that I’ve… The last thing that you said is a conversation that I’ve been sort of delving into myself personally around — what does it mean to be a white supremacist? And, you know, I, in my head, the way that I distinguish it is, there’s white supremacists with a capital w and s, which is like somebody who openly espouses, you know, Neo-Nazi ideologies or something like that, but then there’s the lowercase one. That’s like the larger ideology that’s pervading within all of us. And I think that’s the one that really drove us to title the show Becoming Less Racist, right? Accepting that we all have some of this inside of us and that we’re working to get it out. I think one of the distinctions that people aren’t overly clear about is between white nationalism and white supremacy. Could you help us understand that a little bit?
Sure. And I mean, and I think your point too, about understanding the different approaches to white supremacy — it is really important that it’s not just in with extremists. Right? But it’s like in our structures of how our world works. So there was this attempt leading up to 2016 — I’m sorry. I rolled my eyes. It’s probably not appropriate — So leading up to 2016, where folks wanted to not call people like the alt-right. White supremacists, they went in and said they were white nationalists. Right? So these are people that were interested in having a white nation-state in some way, shape or form, or they were interested in white dominance in political and cultural and social power. Right? So even if it didn’t have the nationalist piece, it was like — we need white people to be in charge right? In some sort of way.
So that is a particular offshoot of white supremacy. You know, if we think about white supremacy as kind of an umbrella, right? That there are lots of movements that we can put within this, but we also can do the structural analysis about structural racism too, and policing in schools. Right? Banking, all of these kinds of ways that the American system is built on white supremacist practice and status quo. So white nationalists then was like the nice way to talk about these movements and particularly to sort of make them just political, right. That this is just a political ideology. And of course it’s never just ideology, right? Because people are living this, they’re embodying it, they’re doing things. And I think also made it a little bit easier to dismiss, right? To say — Oh, this white nationalism thing is something people believe. But I think most religious studies scholars know that, like, belief is not somehow separate from the bodies we inhabit and what we’re doing in our practices. But that was very much the kind of frame, right? Like if it’s just words, like why does it matter? And I think, unfortunately we’re very much reaping what we sow on this about. Yeah. Like ideology is dangerous, right? These words have meaning and they have material consequences on lives of people to you.
Yeah. That’s very helpful. Thanks for walking us through that. And I think one of the things that’s been helpful for me in understanding this, is seeing white supremacy as the broader structure, and white nationalism as a substructure and even describing it as an offshoot is somewhat helpful to think about it as a movement, right? Something that has legs and is quite active in our society. And I think one of the real challenges with white nationalism, well, one of the things that helps with this term, is that it puts it into the context of the broader world. In that there are all sorts of ethno-nationalists movements that are rising to power right now, and you can look different countries and contexts and you say — okay, I can see what’s going on here in relation to other places.
One of the big challenges is that there’s no, like… You’re saying it doesn’t show up in robes on its own. There’s no defining ideology, no one shows up and says, I’m a white nationalist. And so to pin it down is really tough. So yeah, I appreciate you helping us understand that. Let me… so, okay. So if you’re watching, this is “Becoming Less Racist: Lighting the Path to Anti-Racism.” We’re with Sr. Kelly Baker, who’s a scholar of white supremacy and the KKK. If you have comments or questions, drop them in the comment area and we’ll try and get to them before we go there. I want to ask you for some practical advice — what do we do? What do we do as a society that is frustrated with the racial divide and aware of white supremacy as a problem, but we feel paralyzed. We’re not sure. We’re not sure what to do. Where should we start?
So I think it’s a good question. I mean, defund the police, but that’s like a big project, right? So I think not that it’s an impossible project, but I think it’s a bigger project and it needs lots of people to sign on for those kinds of changes to happen. So I think for fellow white people, one of the things that I think is important here is if you’ve just started paying attention and — Hey, everybody’s on a journey, we’re glad you showed up. Like one of the pieces here is that you have to do the education piece, so beyond just making a sign right, or blacking out your profile picture, one of the things that you should do is you should read Black scholars on this, right? You should pay attention to what they’re saying about racism in America. You should look at this stuff and think about it.
And the piece here too, about education, is that all of this stuff is really uncomfortable, right? It’s terribly uncomfortable to confront how white supremacist our culture is and how, if you’re white, you’ve likely benefited from this and have privileges and opportunities that other people do not have. And that’s not going to feel good. And I hope it doesn’t feel good. Like, I hope you feel bad. I’m not going to beat around the bush around this. And so you have to do that education piece and you have to figure out how to like, live with that discomfort and let that discomfort motivate you. I think a lot of people are going to start reading this and be like — Oh no, I’m a terrible person. And frankly, it’s not about you, right? Like don’t personalize this, realize the structure of this, realize the cultural value and then figure out how you’re going to be anti-racist, so read this up and then figure out what kind of actions you can do.
Right. So you can protest, but you can also donate to Black organizations who are working in communities who are doing bail funds, right, who are doing all of this really novel on the groundwork that you can do this, that you can talk to other white people about this and maybe call them out gently or not gently about the things that they’re doing and saying, and how this works. You know, you can think about how your school system works within, you know, school to prison pipeline. What kind of punishments are happening who’s impacted by this? You know, if you want to use that white lady privilege, they’re like — show up and ask to speak to a manager, you know — that you can actually do this in your school systems and that you need to be having these conversations home to you.
So one of the things I’ve been tweeting about a lot lately is having these conversations with my kids. I’ve an 11-year-old and a six-year-old, about what’s happening in the world right now. And to think through what something like Black Lives Matters means and where that comes from, and you know, like my kids are like — this is terrible, right? This is the beauty of small children, right. It’s unfair. Like this is awful. How can this happen? How do you grownups let this happen? Right? Because they have this righteous indignation and they need desperately for things to be fair. And I really want them to know it’s not fair. Right? And they have a job then to help make sure it does become fair right. And have this kind of solidarity piece. But it also means I’m having really awful conversations with them about George Floyd.
Right? As I had very awful conversations with my little one after Ferguson about Mike Brown, where I was just like — we have to do this kind of work. And so I feel like, especially for white parents, the job is you can make this change at home. Right? Like if you don’t talk about race, then they are going to imbibe all of the prejudice and racism around us. But if you can very honestly do this with them, you can. And so I’ve been talking about structural racism with my 11-year-old, since she was like five. Right? Which is a hard thing to understand, right? Like it’s a hard thing for grownups to understand, but you can do this in small ways to talk about the disparity in policing, right, and who gets policed. You can talk about why people are protesting in the streets.
You can talk about lack of voting rights, you know, all of these sorts of things that you can have a conversation with them that’s age-appropriate and not to encourage them to feel bad, but to say — okay, like, what are we going to do about this? Like, what are our action items in some sort of way? So we’ve had a lot of conversations about what that looks like for us. Like what are we doing one way or another, right, and how can we make it better? And how also, and I think this is super important, how to not make it about us, right? Like who cares if I’m a white lady doing the anti-racist practice, I’m not doing this. So people will think I’m an ally, right. and proclaim this for me, I’m doing this because it’s the work that needs to be done.
And it’s not about me. Right? It’s about other people and how we make the world better for all of us, right. I mean, you quoted Angela Davis. And I always think about her, you know, freedom is a constant struggle. So if we want people to be free, like we have to work towards us and work hard. And so those kinds of things can be early formation things. And the other piece I would say here is that oftentimes to white folks — they didn’t know when to just be quiet. We didn’t know when to listen and pay attention and learn from that. Right? Again, it’s not necessarily about you, it’s not a personal attack, you know, if someone calls you out. Like take it with grace and learn from it. And that’s so hard — like, it’s so hard. Right? And I deeply appreciate all the people that I know that have called me out when I’m not living up to my practice and you want to have fight with them. Right? And be like, no that’s not what I meant — and it doesn’t matter, right, what I meant. I hurt someone, I have to learn, I have to live with that. And then I move on. Right? But that lack of defensiveness, I think, is a habit that will go a long way in someone’s journey to anti-racist practice.
Thank you. I’m thinking a lot about what you said about raising kids and we have a question from the comments that I am struggling with currently. So I want to ask it too. How do we encourage our kids to overcome racial boundaries that are set for them without reinforcing them?
Yeah. Yeah. It’s hard. Right? Like it’s so hard. And they’re set from them again and again and again. Right. And I feel like I spend a lot of time fighting against other people’s expectations of how children should interact right. Or what children should learn, and so I think a lot of it is just consistently pushing against it, right? When kids come home and say something that’s remarkably stereotypical, right, about someone who’s different from them, you know, it’s like — okay, time out. Like, why would you say that? Who did you hear that from? Right? Like in how to do this, and encourage them to know that those boundaries are not real, right? Like then we can like move over them and negotiate them in ways that are important. One of the things that I’ve tried to do with my older kid, who’s going into middle school next year, is to get her to think really carefully about how we performatively go against these boundaries and how we actually go against them.
Right? So I’m not interested in looking woke and she shouldn’t be interested in looking woke. Right? What she should be doing is standing up and befriending those children who have been targeted by teachers because of the color of their skin. Right? And when she does that, I mean, that’s a big deal and it’s not that she wants a pat on the back. It’s just — this is the right thing to do. And so I think that requires a lot of parents, like — then you’re going to be there for them. Right? And also for white parents in particular, letting your kids know that you’re going to tag in for them. Right? So they get in trouble for this at school, like know that you are going to support them. ‘Cause they’ve made the correct ethical decision, right, and they need that support it.
It’s been… so I tell my kids all the time, I’m like, do you need me to tag in, right? Like again, use that white lady privilege one way or another, right. Or is this practice unfair for the whole class? Right. I will be that mom that complains, and I have no problem about doing that kind of stuff. But it’s hard and it’s uncomfortable. And, you know, for a lot of white folks, they would rather just kinda not deal with that discomfort. I’m just too, I think I’m just too willing to get in people’s faces as part of the problem too — but that’s a different, different sort of thing.
Let me switch gears entirely. We have a question from a viewer about forgiveness. Can you speak to the idea that this Christian fetishization of forgiveness is a tool of white supremacy?
Oh yeah. No, it is. No, that’s like a thing that’s real. Yeah.
Can you explain what that question means?
So I think, and the person who asked the question can correct me, but what it sounds like is that Christian desire, right, for people to be forgiven for the acts that they’ve done right, has almost become a requirement, right? So if something bad happens to you, then you should forgive that person, partially with an idea that this is going to be what’s best for you, right? If you forgive them. But also partially with this idea that, right, like we all can be redeemed, right? And we can all sort of do this together and that we can get better. I’m not gonna deny that people can get better. Right? I’m not going to deny that people can be redeemed. I think the pressure put on people of color and communities of color when bad things happen to instantly forgive white perpetrators is definitely a white supremacist move.
Right? The person that perpetrated that is not guaranteed that forgiveness, they maybe don’t deserve it or might never deserve it. But that kind of pressure to say — no matter what terrible thing happens to you, right? Whatever racist incident, whatever brutality you faced at protests, like you need to be the better person. And that is white supremacist strategy, right, to say that — Oh, no matter what happens to you, you have to ascend to this. And I think that’s deeply unfair. And I’m skeptical about the whole forgiveness thing anyway, that’s not a thing for here, but that desire, right, to say instantly — you have to be okay with this, I think is a problem and should really be pushed against, right? That maybe what we shouldn’t be asking for is forgiveness here. Right? What we should be asking for here is something more akin to justice for the people who have survived, whatever, or didn’t survive. And that’s the better question. Like what do you do? Like how do you restore justice here is more pressing as opposed to that easy apology, right, that just will make you feel don’t feel better. Right? You did terrible things. You shouldn’t feel good about that. You know, you have to live with that harm and learn to live with that harm. And, the apology shouldn’t be a get out of jail free card in some sort of way.
I appreciate that. I’ve been thinking about this question a bit myself, because I remember… I’m writing about some of my experiences in dealing with hate violence. And I was remembering this moment after a massacre of the Sikh community in 2012, where people just kept telling me, like — you should forgive the killer. And in my head, like I’d seen it performed so many times that I was like, yes, that is what I should do. But in my heart, like, it was so personal at that time. I just couldn’t like… I was like, this guy, he did what he did and he didn’t apologize. Like what difference does it make if I forgive him? And what does a half-assed forgiveness do for anyone? Right? Like, sure, I can say I forgive you. But it didn’t mean anything.
Like… he had hate his heart and like, that was hard to deal with. And so, yeah, it was in that moment in 2012 where I really started thinking about this question of forgiveness and also, yesterday was the five year anniversary of the Charleston shooting. And I remember the national conversation around and the outrage around people asking the AME church members to forgive the shooter, the kid. Yeah. And that, I think that opened up a lot of our eyes around what’s appropriate — like who gets to ask for forgiveness and who has to ask and who has to give forgiveness in these contexts. And what I’m hearing you say is like, a lot of it has to do with power. Like who’s in power. Right? And who doesn’t have it.
Well, and I think a lot about the more casual conversations that folks are having with their friends, like with their friends who are people of color right now, you know, someone will say the wrong thing and they’re like, I need you to apologize. Like I need to know that you’re going to accept my apology. Right? Like I need to know desperately that you’re going to forgive me for this misstep. And I tell my kids this all the time and they get really, really frustrated with me. But I’m like, your apology sometimes doesn’t mean anything. Right? Like your apology doesn’t do anything. It hasn’t fixed harm. Right? I’m not encouraging them not to apologize, but to just really think about like — you hurt someone, you harmed them. You said something that is going to stick with them. They don’t have to accept your apology and your only recourse is to do better.
Right? And they get so angry. So I will like do this and it’s almost like a litany. And they’re like — we know, we know we just have to do better. Right? And I’m like, yes, because that is our job. Right? To learn and grow here. And that we can’t… I feel like we can’t ask that of people, right? Like it’s completely unfair and the audacity to even ask for it, right, is the peak whiteness there that I just can’t abide by right. To say — no, I’ve done something wrong and now I need you to make me feel better. And — no, you don’t get to feel better.
Yeah. For those who are interested, I’ll make two recommendations here based on what Kelly’s talking about. One is, Brené Brown’s new podcast has a great conversation, a two-part conversation with Harriet Lerner on apologizing and what an apology it looks like. And, that’s simple, but I mean, I think it came out about a month ago. It’s already changed the way that I, not just how I view apology, but how I apologize myself. And a lot of it has to do with what you’re saying, Kelly, and we all know this from our personal relationships, if we apologize to our partners or our parents or our friends, and don’t follow it with action, like doesn’t mean anything. So that that’s really helpful. And then Robin DiAngelo’s book White Fragility — she talks, she has a section in there on white guilt, and I think that’s part of what you’re talking about, Kelly. Like, a lot of us in this moment are having our white friends come up to us being like, I’m sorry for this. And I’m sorry for that. And I’m appreciative of that consciousness, but also what would we do about that feeling of guilt that we all have in some way, in terms of changing our own behaviors. And the third thing that’s coming to mind is actually yesterday, a major political figure in Canada Jagmeet Singh, he’s a Sikh, he put forward a resolution around revisiting white supremacy and policing in Canada. And he was opposed by, I mean, there was… It needs to go unanimously. And then he was opposed by an MP who is known for his racism and Jagmeet called him out for his racism, and he was kicked out of the House for doing so. And the media story around that issue was centered on Jagmeet Singh, and they ask him to apologize. And he said, no, I’m not apologizing. So there’s this really interesting example of what we’re talking about right here, of like again, who is expect, like — why is this story about him in this moment, as opposed to the racist actions of his colleague? And Jagmeet has essentially said the same thing, right? Like how ridiculous is it that we live in a society where we are kicked out of our spaces. We’re more concerned about being called racist than we are about our actual racism. So anyway, it was a really interesting example of what you’re talking about here. Okay. Let’s do one more question before we slide out, take us out on a positive note. You don’t have to, but are you encouraged by any stories of churches or Christian groups that are working on race issues? Are you seeing that kind of thing? And if so, what do you see working?
It was an interesting question. I am always heartened by religious leaders who are going to take this very seriously and then actually do something about it. Right? So, I used to be a part of this little tiny, progressive church. And they’ve been on the front lines of these protests, right? Like they’re just out there and they are part of the community and they are listening and they are trying their best. Right? Primarily these like middle to elderly, you know, white folk that are just like — okay, like, this is what we do, right? Like we show up for people. I’m also pretty fascinated and I’m happy to see the number of religious speakers that are involved with abolitionist movements, prison, abolition, and abolish the police, where they very much are taking this as a moment to talk about what it would mean to defund the police and to recreate a society where this is not necessarily, but we get the social services that people need to make things better.
So that makes me deeply happy, and it’s good to see. And I’m continually like energized by folks younger than me who were so willing to like go all in on these issues that they’re just kind of ready to do this. Right? And I think, and I think that’s useful and that, you know, those of us that are older than them can support them and let them grow and kind of lead us because the imaginative capacity that they have, right, is different than the one that we have, ’cause in a lot of ways, we’ve kind of gotten used to this and I think their power to reimagine is very, very useful. So we should pay attention to that and listen to them. Right? And what they’re kind of doing here. So I do, I see pockets of this, right?
Like it’s not like I’m inherently like — Oh, all of this sucks. Now I do have days where I think all of this sucks and everything’s terrible, but I mean, I think you see this kind of momentum and that’s very useful and helpful and that people aren’t going to take this sitting down and I think that’s an important part of this movement to you, right? Like that we have some sort of energy here now, that for whatever reason was missing after Ferguson, right? And there’ve been a number of articles about like the white people that are finally showing up for this and, I don’t know, what’s motivating them, right? But that helps too. Right? Like we can’t just expect folks that have been targeted, right, or that are routinely policed more harshly because of the color of their skin to handle this activism, right? We need everybody else to join in too, and I’m excited to see that happening more and more as well.
That’s great. Thank you. And I’ll throw in there, our guest on Tuesday actually, Pastor Jacqui Lewis, she heads up the historic multiracial congregation Middle Church. She’s running a two part anti-racism workshop here in New York City over Zoom, Wednesday and Thursday. And so I am seeing a little bit more of this as well, and I’m excited to speak with her on Tuesday and learn more about her vision for this and why she’s up to it. So, thank you, Kelly. Thanks so much for your time. I know you have young ones at home and in your own work life going on. So again, if you liked what Kelly had to say today, you might love her book, The Gospel According to the Klan. You can also find her on Twitter as Kelly_J_Baker. Next week with Pastor Jacqui Lewis will be on Tuesday at 1:00 PM Eastern. And like today we’ll try and learn as much as we can about anti-racism and what we can do as individuals and as a society. So I look forward to that conversation and I look forward to seeing all that. Thank you.
Thanks for having me.